Treasure in Heaven

Maybe Jesus envisions a world where people don’t have to earn the right to eat

Man with hands outstretched in a field
Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

January 29, 2023

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Commentary on Matthew 6:7-21

Jesus’ words about forgiveness and wealth in Matthew 6:14–21 inspire us to live simply, weighed down neither by possessions nor by grudges; however, it’s easy for these words to be read in a way that makes life harder for the dispossessed and only minorly convicting for people who live comfortable lives.

For instance, the call to “forgive others their trespasses” can be treated as a quick fix especially in contexts of power imbalances. When someone with little social power has been wronged, they might be urged just to let it go because nothing can be done anyway. While forgiveness can be life giving to the one who forgives, it shouldn’t be used to sweep injustices under the proverbial rug.

Similarly, Jesus instructs his followers not to store up treasures on earth but instead to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” This command can easily be used to dismiss the concerns of the poor. “Are you working three jobs to make ends meet and have no health benefits to show for it? That’s ok. If you just focus on the spiritual things of the world, you’ll be rewarded in heaven!”

On the other hand, when reading these verses from a position of privilege, it is tempting to take them as mild commands that affect one’s life very little. We might be satisfied with reading these verses as general admonitions to avoid holding grudges and to embark upon an annual garage clean out, perhaps even donating items to charity here and there. 

But if we go back to the prayer Jesus models for his followers in 6:9–13, we are invited to move beyond these superficial ways of reading toward a reading that challenges the power systems of the world. 

Teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus gets straight to the point(s). The prayer calls for the coming of God’s kingdom and will on earth. In other words, “May things on earth be as they ought to be, just like they are in heaven: characterized by your benevolent will and just kingdom.” 

What follow are two ways God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done: the provision of daily bread (or “our bread sufficient for the coming day,” as the Greek reads) and release from debts. Both requests ask for these things to take place on earth, but both requests are directed first toward God, recognizing that God is the ultimate source of all good things. 

In fact, when it comes to “daily bread,” we might be reminded of another time when God provided a bread-like substance each day for God’s people. When the Israelites were in the wilderness, God provided them manna daily (Exodus 16). The people could not store up extra for themselves because the manna would spoil. But there it was, every day. And it was readily available to all the people. No one had to earn it. No one had to pay for it. It was there, and it was enough. 

In praying for daily bread, Jesus isn’t asking God to magically send food to earth from heaven each day. He’s not saying we should expect our needs to be provided for miraculously (not that this couldn’t happen). Instead, taking seriously the idea that God’s will and kingdom are coming here to earth, maybe Jesus is asking that the world be characterized by the gift of daily bread. Maybe Jesus envisions a world where people don’t have to earn the right to eat. 

This leads to a question: Instead of storing up treasures on earth, how can we be part of God’s will to make daily bread readily accessible to all? How can we work toward a reality in which basic needs are met, where all people have access to affordable housing, clean water, good healthcare, and, well, food? This calls us beyond even well-intentioned acts of charity and asks us to reflect deeply on the system of daily bread modeled by God versus the economic systems we, especially in the United States, take for granted. 

Likewise, Jesus’ prayer asks for release from debts, presuming that “we also have forgiven our debtors.” Richard Swanson, in his Working Preacher commentary on Matthew 6:7–21, points out that Jesus’ words acknowledge “that the world is a web of debt and obligation.”1 Swanson describes the systems of tribute-debt for Jews under Hellenistic rule that marginalized ordinary people by pushing them off their land. He also writes about the ways systems of debt (and debt release!) affect people of all walks of life.2

In thinking about systems of debt and obligation that marginalize, I am reminded of Michelle Alexander’s discussion of life after prison in The New Jim Crow. Alexander’s book is about mass incarceration and how it systemically marginalizes especially black (male) Americans but also other groups, including poor white Americans. The book is very well researched, deeply thought-provoking, and exceedingly troubling. It would be impossible to do it justice here, but I will name one key point. Alexander discusses how difficult it is for those released from prison to reintegrate into society since they are frequently denied “employment, housing, education, and public benefits.3 

It’s all too easy to shrug off this reality by telling ourselves that those who have been in prison lost their rights. After all, they broke the law. It’s too easy to believe that these people should be heavily sanctioned because they’re a threat to our safety and wellbeing, even though a striking number of imprisonments are for nonviolent crimes. Noting how problematic this logic is (I cannot recommend Alexander’s book strongly enough), I think we can also ask a more fundamental question: In a society that makes it nearly impossible to ever be able to repay this sort of “debt,” what might it look like for Christians to be committed to restorative justice instead of punitive retribution? This doesn’t mean cheap forgiveness for wrongdoing, but it does mean asking hard questions about how we might release people from “debts” in support of profound human flourishing.


  1. Richard Swanson, “Commentary on Matthew 6:7–21,” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary, Accessed Nov. 14, 2022,
  2.  Swanson, “Commentary on Matthew 6:7–21,”
  3.  Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, tenth anniversary edition (New York: The New Press, 2020), 231.


Extravagant God, you have promised treasure in heaven that outweighs any we could envision or imagine on earth. Help us to be grateful for the amazing gifts you have already given to us. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.


Be thou my vision   ELW 793

Jesus, priceless treasure   ELW 775, UMH 532, NCH 480

O day of rest and gladness   ELW 521, H82 48, NCH 66


Be thou my vision Bob Chilcott